Less than a year after women altered the political landscape and helped win back the House, some Democrats are voicing disappointment that presidential bids launched by women haven’t completely taken off.
Six Democratic women are running for president in a dramatic increase from previous years. But just one, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTlaib blasts Biden judicial nominee whose firm sued environmental lawyer These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Trump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple MORE (D-Calif.), is in the top tier of the 18 candidates in the race.
And Harris is just outside the very top tier of the race, according to polls that consistently show former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York woman arrested after allegedly spitting on Jewish children Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE, who has yet to enter the contest, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFilibuster becomes new litmus test for Democrats Gallego says he's been approached about challenging Sinema Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (I-Vt.) at the very top of the pyramid.
Harris, who raised more than $12 million in the first quarter, does appear to be clearly in the top four of the emerging race, along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).
But that means three of the top four candidates in most polls are white men, leaving a number of other high-profile women candidates behind.
“A few months ago, I imagined the top tier looking very different, especially after the 2018 midterm wins and the ‘Me Too’ movement,” one female Democratic strategist said. “It’s still early, but it is a little frustrating.”
Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Trump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple MORE (Mass.) Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharEffort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTlaib blasts Biden judicial nominee whose firm sued environmental lawyer The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India MORE (N.Y.) have not been as competitive in the polls or in fundraising thus far in the race. Neither has Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe perfect Democratic running mate for DeSantis? Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition MORE (D-Hawaii) or author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson says difference between two political parties is 'performative' Marianne Williamson: Steven Donziger sentencing is meant to have a 'chilling effect' on environmentalists Marianne Williamson calls federal judge's handling of Steven Donziger case 'unconstitutional' MORE.
Warren, who last year was widely seen as a potential front-runner, announced Wednesday that her campaign had raised $6 million in the first quarter — less than Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout near certain airports MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Buttigieg was a political unknown months ago, and is another white man who appears close to breaking into the top tier of candidates.
Democratic strategist Jim Manley counts himself as surprised and cautions that much could change in the coming months. At the same time, he said “the reality is a lot of these women aren’t seeing much traction right now.”
Manley said he has been particularly impressed by Warren and the nuanced policy proposals she has put forth.
“She’s breaking a lot of ground with solid policy proposals and she isn’t getting a lot of traction out of it, but it is still early,” he said.
Some political strategists argue that female candidates such as Warren are being hurt by a political double standard that treats men and women differently.
“I think a lot of what’s happening is despite gains that women have made, they’re still dealing with a lot of latent sexism and double standards both from how voters perceive them and how they’re covered,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “When one of the male candidates does something intellectual they are smart and new, but when one of the female candidates [talks about their policies], they’re too bland or wonky to connect with voters.”
A study by Northwestern University out late last month showed that female candidates in 2020 “are consistently being described in the media more negatively than their male counterparts.”
The study, which examined 130 news articles from mainstream media outlets, concluded it’s a “disconcerting trend” in 2020 election coverage.
Each of the women running for president has been mired in mini-controversies, some of which have drawn accusations of sexism.
Klobuchar faced a rash of negative headlines after former aides accused her of being a mean-spirited boss — something her defenders said would not have been an issue with a male boss.
Warren has had to deal with the fallout of her release of DNA testing to back her claims of Native American ancestry. Gillibrand has had to deal with brushback from Democrats who accused her of leading the charge in former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMeet the Democrats' last best hope of preserving a House majority Franken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation.
“I am certainly concerned with the way that the media has been covering the women candidates versus the male candidates,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The press seems to spend time on the idiosyncrasies around the male candidates that they find charming but they don’t provide parallel coverage when it comes to females.”
“There’s so much focus on jumping on tables and an endearing Brooklyn accent and another candidate’s avuncular style of campaigning versus Elizabeth Warren’s policy chops and Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor. There’s definitely a double standard,” Petkanas added.
Some observers also wonder if the polls are reflecting anxiety among Democrats over nominating a woman the cycle after Clinton’s loss to President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE.
“I hate to say it, but as 2016 showed us, misogyny is alive and well,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies.
“For some reason, when some people think of a president, they still think of a white male,” Jellison added. “It’s an image they carry around in their conscious or even subconscious mind.”
Petkanas said the race is still young. He said he expects the standings to look much different in the lead-up to the early state caucuses and primaries.
“Anyone who is counting out the women in this race has not learned any lesson from 2018,” he said